This is from Germano Celant’s “Dressing Louise Bourgeois” and I was poised to hate it because those first two sentences are terrible. (That quote is, probably you guessed, Merriam-Webster.) But the rest of this is really good, and an excellent introduction to what I mean when I talk about surfaces, especially as in here, here, or here. But I am going to remember “the fabric always implies something that lies beneath,” which is a very important part of what I am talking about here, here, and here.
I know I flagged this passage once because, even though on first read calling “interwoven elements, with a certain thickness and a certain texture” a “skin” isn’t very convincing (and really on second third and fourth reading that sentence just doesn’t get any better), a permeable surface that is made of fiber is kind of the the necessary model that connects the Butler I linked above to the Butler of “Beside Oneself.” What I mean is: if skin is the (permeable) boundary between our (“autonomous”) self (our “interior,” our identity) and everyone else, the “outside world,” others, then that boundary being made of fiber allows it to really easily be the “site where ‘doing’ and ‘being done to’ become equivocal.” That’s how fiber works, right? And thread is also a way that a body (a skin) can be itself and beside itself at the same time. This is a pretty clear and obvious application of “undoing,” but mostly I’m trying to say that “undoing” illuminates feminist fiber art in a way that I don’t think any art theorist has really pushed.
I have always loved the possibilities of this model! For one, think of what it means (and I do, every day) for trich—I think of myself as composed of fiber, and this whole process is a process of undoing, to say the least. (I have more to say about this sometime!) But I also would like to ask where the theorists are applying Butler to, for example, Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece.” (This is an actual question and I don’t have the means right now to look into it.)
One more aside about fiber before I get back to talking about skin: there’s a lot of feminist art theory about knots and subjects (Elisabeth Bronfen’s The Knotted Subject, I am remembering), which should be considered here, but I don’t remember that book very well and I think I only read one or two chapters.
Anyway, back to the passage above. That stuff about skin as a surface draws heavily (or rehashes) a lot of work of art theorists and historians, especially of early modern scientific thought, which was when the West started really deal in a model of “the self” as separate from “the outside,” relying on the skin. (If I’m not mistaken, the fifteenth century or so was when anatomists and doctors first really started to think of the skin as A Thing separate from the rest of the body at all, as seen here.)
My point is that I kiiiinda wish the author had engaged with or cited some of that thought in this piece? I fantasize about a future where art theorists are willing to say “hey when I was working on these ideas about Louise Bourgeois I drew from Judith Butler and this guy who writes about Italian medical engravings,” and maybe a possible future where art theorists cite as rigorously as regular historians. (And as Judith Butler says “fantasy is part of the articulation of the possible…[possibility] is as crucial as bread,” lol.)
More on this piece! And others! I gotta get some shit back to the library.